Trade imbalance hits close to home, hurts real people

The U.S. trade deficit set a record of $617.7 billion in 2004, which should come as no surprise. The United States has been importing hundreds of billions of dollars more than it exports for years.
And it comes as no surprise to anyone who even occasionally glances at "made in ..." labels that China is the chief beneficiary, accounting for fully a fourth of the deficit. China has been sending tens of billions of dollars more of its products to the United States than it buys for years.
Finally, it is no surprise that this trade imbalance hurts real people -- right here in our community.
As U.S. Rep. Phil English of Erie, Pa., R-3rd, noted last week, 89 steelworkers laid off at Wheatland Tube Co. in Mercer County underscore the need for action.
Certainly action is needed to provide the individual workers with benefits and training that are available to workers who have lost their jobs to foreign imports.
Level the field
But, more than that, it is time for this nation -- through Congress and the Bush administration -- to stand up to China and demand that trade be conducted on a level playing field.
When China can ship finished pipe into the United States for what it costs a U.S. mill to produce the same poundage of ingots, the field isn't level.
The answer President Bush gave not long ago to "solving" the trade deficit with China was for American consumers to simply stop buying Chinese products. While we agree that consumers should be more selective, that answer is simplistic, and the president knows it.
At the very least, China is undercutting U.S. goods by maintaining an artificially low exchange rate between the Chinese yuan and the U.S. dollar. That keeps U.S. exports to China artificially expensive and Chinese imports to the U.S. artificially cheap. Any movement toward fair trade starts with a realistic exchange, and this Congress and the administration have an obligation to American workers to be aggressive in demanding change.